Animal Services’ needs should be addressed

County division does much with its budget, but major improvements are needed

letters@thetribunenews.comJune 19, 2013 

Volunteer Larry Kahn of Santa Margarita works with Usher, a 3-year-old German shepherd who knows how to shake hands, at the county’s Animal Services Facility.

DAVID MIDDLECAMP — dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

‘Doing the Best with What They Have,” is the apt title of a recent San Luis Obispo County grand jury report on the county Animal Services Division. The jury gives Animal Services staff high marks for patience, professionalism and compassion.

We find that especially impressive when you consider the challenges the department faces. As the grand jury report points out:

• At 8,400 square feet, the 40-year-old county animal shelter is woefully undersized. By comparison, Woods Humane Society is more than three times as large.

• Animal Services’ annual budget is $2.4 million, which is only a slight increase over previous years.

• The phone system is one of the busiest in the county; as a result, callers may be put on hold for 15 minutes or longer.

• The 19-member staff (down from 2008, when there were 21 staff members) is stretched thin, though it is augmented by volunteers and inmates from the Women’s Honor Farm.

Given the fiscal constraints of the past several years, it’s understandable that there has been little money to fund major improvements or to increase staff. But with the county’s fiscal situation steadily improving, it’s a good time to revisit some of the key points made in a 2008 audit of Animal Services.

That audit was conducted by the Humane Society of the United States, in response to complaints about mistreatment of animals and other serious allegations.

At the time, we urged the county to follow through with the low- and no-cost improvements recommended in the audit.

Many of those have been implemented. That’s commendable.

But as the grand jury points out, “major improvements to the facility and staffing increases are still unaddressed.”

The county does plan to expand the shelter next year to include a new lobby, cattery and additional office space. That’s a start, but we agree that more is needed.

For example, there is still no volunteer coordinator, although that was one of the recommendations of the Humane Society. And we find a 15-minute wait time on phone calls unacceptable.

We don’t expect change to occur overnight. But Animal Services is an area that affects almost all of us at one time or another, whether it’s because we adopt a pet, come across a stray or injured animal, or have to deal with a loud, misbehaving dog in our neighborhood.

We join the grand jury in urging the county to reevaluate the needs of county Animal Services and to develop a plan to address them.

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